'You need to have all those opinions': How embracing diversity and inclusion is transforming the Packers' management, workforce

Richard Ryman
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – The appointment of two women to leadership roles are the newest and most visible sign of the Green Bay Packers' effort to diversify their organization.   

Susan Finco, who joined the board of directors in 2000 and in 2015 was the first woman named to its executive committee, is poised to become the first female to be lead director. She'll be joined on the executive committee by Marcia Anderson, the first Black member of the panel that effectively governs the Packers.  

Finco said the Packers' efforts to ingrain diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization at 1265 Lombardi Ave. have evolved over time, but accelerated under the leadership of team President and CEO Mark Murphy.

"I don’t know that there was a single trigger for a desire to improve diversity and inclusion," Finco said. "I think that it evolved with a lot of other things. It’s reflective of the times, it’s reflective of the community, but you also need a leader who embraces that. It’s really picked up a lot of steam under Mark Murphy’s leadership and the directors affairs committee."

After July's annual shareholders meeting, the 42-member board of directors includes 10 women, nine people of color and five former Packers players. In 2007, the last year before Murphy was named Packers president and CEO, the 44-member board included four women, one person of color, Virgis Colbert, and one former player, Bryce Paup.

Being the first African-American on the Green Bay Packers executive committee could put a lot of weight on Anderson's shoulders, but she's used to it. She wore the stars of an army major general, which had a weight all their own. Anderson was the first Black female major general in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve and National Guard.

She recently retired as clerk of court for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, allowing her to bring layers of experience to the organization. She was elected to the Packers board of directors in 2016 and is expected to be elevated to its executive committee during an August board meeting.

"You need to have all those opinions and life experiences in the room to help you be innovative and creative, because otherwise you're going to run into 'we've always done it this way,'" Anderson said, explaining one way diversity matters. "Well, yeah, because the same 20 people are making the decisions. Once you change that dynamic, a lot of different things begin to happen."

The Packers made changing that dynamic a factor in adding directors, hiring managers and workers, promoting from within, and informing workplace policies and behavior. Diversity comes in many forms — gender, ethnic, cultural, experience, geographic — and the Packers consider them all. 

Susan Finco, owner of Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Green Bay, Wis.

The community is changing and the Packers must change with it, said Finco, owner of Leonard & Finco Public Relations in Green Bay. 

"That’s part of running the organization from a business perspective, as well. That’s why, on the board, it’s important that we have (diverse) representation like that," she said.

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Finco emphasizes, as does every Packers executive, that the team's main focus is winning Super Bowls. Everything else is in support of that, but everything else includes more elements than ever before; things such as year-round use of the Lambeau Field Atrium and the Titletown District development west of the stadium.

"I think Larry Weyers (former CEO of Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and former Packers treasurer) is the one who always used to say 'a winning performance on the field takes a winning performance off the field, financially.’ All of these other things serve to support that football operation. If they aren’t healthy, we aren’t going to have a healthy football team," Finco said.

"It’s grown tremendously through the years and I think the effort of diversity and inclusion is reflective of that as well. It’s healthy."

The Green Bay area is more diverse now than at any time in Packers' history, and the team's fan base, in any case, is worldwide. According to Wallet Hub, Green Bay is exactly in the middle of the web site's U.S. metro diversity rankings, coming in at 250th out of 501 cities measured. 

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The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Brown County's population in 2019 was 80% white, 9% Hispanic, 3.4% Native American, 3.4% Asian and 3% Black. Compare that to 2005, when 87% where white, 5.4% were Hispanic, 2.5% Native American, 2.3% Asian and 1.6% Black.

It is a trend that will continue. The Green Bay School District reported that more than half of its students were members of minority groups in 2021. Forty-five percent were white, 28% Hispanic, 10% Black, 7% Asian and 4% Native American. Six percent identified as being of two or more races. 

NFL diversity push

The National Football League has made increasing diversity a goal, but with mixed results over the years. 

It expanded the Rooney Rule to require clubs to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach vacancies, at least one minority candidate for any of the three football coordinator vacancies; and at least one external minority candidate for senior football operations or general manager positions.

Clubs also must include minorities or female applicants in the interview processes for senior-level front-office positions such as club president and senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology, and security positions.

Women in decision-making positions include Nicole Ledvina, vice president of human resources; Gabrielle Valdez Dow, vice president of marketing and fan engagement; Marissa Meli, associate general counsel; Jennifer Ark, director of stadium services; Peggy Prebelski, director of retail operations; Cathy Dworak, director of community outreach and player/alumni relations, Joan Malcheski, director of brand and marketing, and Jackie Krutz, manager of Titletown residential and programs. 

All told, 31% of of the 102 Packers employees in decision-making positions, excluding coaches, are women or minorities. Twenty-six of those 32 employees are women. Ten of the team's 26 coaches and about 70% of its players are Black.

Diversity in leadership positions on the football field will be an ongoing focus, as well. 

The Packers promoted Maurice Drayton to special teams coordinator this year, a key position.

Drayton, who is Black, interned with the team in 2009 as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, a program designed to use NFL clubs' training camps, offseason workout programs and minicamps to give minority coaches opportunities to network and gain experience. He coached at Indianapolis before returning to the Packers in 2018 as an assistant special teams coach.

"After being around him for two years now, I think it was a matter of time before he was going to get one of these other opportunities that presented themselves outside of this building. So, did not want to lose a guy like Mo Drayton," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of the promotion. 

The NFL also increased its support of social justice efforts in the last five years, and created a senior vice president of diversity.

"They really are raising the bar on their expectations from teams," Ledvina said. 

Murphy said diversity often is a topic at league meetings. Teams share information and best practices. The Packers, for example, hired former player Ruvell Martin as a coach using a minority fellowship, an idea that's also in use by several other teams. 

The Packers are one of a handful of teams that have had a Black head coach. Ray Rhodes, who previously was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was hired to lead the Packers during the 1999 season, although the team cut ties with him before the next season.  

Murphy also placed an emphasis on adding former players to the board, which now includes Johnnie Gray, George Koonce, Larry McCarren, Dexter McNabb and Eric Torkelson.

"I think it sends a really good sign to our current players when they see former players who've had successful careers as Packers, have gone on to do other things in the community and across the state, and then come to a time in their career where they are serving on the board," he said. 

Working in the community

When NFL players began protesting in support of Colin Kaepernick after he and they were insulted by then-president Donald Trump, the Packers and most teams in the league rushed to support their players. Criticism from some of their fans has been ongoing, but the Packers have not backed down.

"First of all, it’s the right thing. You want to be on the right side of history," Murphy said.

The Packers made $400,000 in social justice grants in 2020 to organizations in Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha. It was the third year the Packers financially supported programs that work for change in the areas of racism, oppression, injustice and inequality.

In recent years, the team and players have directed donations toward initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity through education and economic advancement, criminal justice reform and programs to improve police-community relations. 

The Packers also agreed to spend $757,000 to help the city of Green Bay buy body cameras for its officers, and it pitched in another $200,000 to do the same for Ashwaubenon. 

"These aren’t really political issues," Murphy said in an interview in December 2020. "I think they’re issues of basic human rights. The players have made that clear."

Finco said the team's social justice initiatives will have an impact.

"I’m really proud of the fact that the Packers organization, along with the players, helped fund the police body cams. That was something that was important to them and important to the police department and it was good for everyone involved," she said.

Choosing directors, employees

Murphy, as team president, picks new board members from among the candiates recommended by the board's director affairs committee.

The 40-plus board members serve on committees, such as director affairs, marketing and others, and meet four or five times a year to consider team business. 

Primary responsibility for running the team's non-football operations is concentrated in the seven-member executive committee. It sets policy for the Packers and keeps watch over the administrative side of the organization. It meets monthly or more often if needed.  

Murphy said the Packers formalized how the director affairs committee operates so that it focuses on a variety of attributes. Relevant skills are foremost, but ethnicity, gender and geography are also important factors.

Susan Finco, center, the Green Bay Packers board's new lead director walks into Lambeau Field with Packers President Mark Murphy,right, during the annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field on July 26. Finco, who joined the board in 2000, is the first woman to hold the position, a reflection of the Packers' ongoing efforts to diversify the organization's leadership and workforce.

"Mark sets the tone as far as wanting to consider diverse candidates who are qualified," said Tom Olson, who just retired as lead director. Olson served on the director affairs committee for eight years. 

"When you have a board as large as ours, you have room," Olson said. "You can look for a wide range of skills, ethnicity, gender, race. I know the committee does that."

Different perspectives based on experience are important to the organization, he said.

"You have to remember that our fan base is also very diverse," Olson said. "To have people who reflect that is important."

For the Packers to put Finco and then Anderson on the executive committee breaks new ground for the 102-year-old organization.

"Women are decision makers, often the financial decision makers in families," Finco said. "There are certainly more women sports fans than ever before, so having that perspective is really important. People look at things differently depending on where they come from."

Finco said geographic diversity also is important. Anderson is the first director from the Madison area, Murphy said. Several are from Milwaukee. The number of directors from outside Brown County is set by the team's bylaws at between five and 15. The Packers tend to be closer to 15.

Hiring diversity

On the employee side, the Packers put emphasis on considering female, minority and LGBTQ candidates, providing opportunities and training for workers to advance, and diversity training for the entire organization, Ledvina said. 

The team has taken an active approach. It adjusted its recruiting guidelines to cast a wider net, and the human resources department has conversations with the hiring supervisors at the beginning of the process.

"Then, when it's time to do the interviewing and selection, we can help remind people of that focus, but always looking for the best candidate for that position," Ledvina said.

The Packers have about 265 full-time employees, including coaches but not players. They also have 240 part-time workers, and on game days, the total tops 1,000.

Anderson knows from experience what successful inclusion looks like. She grew up seeing few who looked like her on television, especially in positive settings, such as in families or business. One of her favorite sayings is that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. She's spent her life creating spots at the table, where she believes positive differences can be made. 

Marcia Anderson, clerk of court for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Western Wisconsin, is a nominee for the Green Bay Packers board of directors.

"Having diverse staff in your organization, where they can be in the room when discussions are happening, can help educate and inform other people in the room about things they may not have thought about," Anderson said.

She believes a younger generation is more comfortable discussing diversity than were their parents and grandparents. She looks forward to the day when diversity is a given, not a subject of the first this or the first that.

"So I think it will just become a way of life as opposed to something on a list of things that some organizations see that they have to remember to pay attention to," she said

Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or rryman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at  @rrymanPG or  on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/

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